New Zealand

Part 1: Bikepacking the North Island


2497km (1200km bike, 1300km walk)


35 days


47,000 m


January 2024

Bottle Hedge

It seemed amusingly inappropriate somehow to be starting a 3000km bike and hike wilderness adventure across New Zealand in a sprawling shopping mall carpark north of Auckland, waiting for a guy I’d messaged on the internet about a cheap second hand bike to show up or not. 20 minutes later and still no sign of him I was beginning to worry that I would be starting my mountain bike trip through the North Island without a mountain bike, which would be problematic to say the least. Thankfully Warren did show up eventually and produced from the back of his car the bike I had seen in the photos online. Unfortunately, after a second into the test ride I realised that it was at least 2 sizes too small and was clearly manufactured for a teenage girl (the bright pink colour and flowery motifs should have given it away). It was a decent bike, the price was good, and more importantly it was right here, so I muttered something like “it’s perfect!”, handed over the cash and started pedalling south.

About a days cycle out of Auckland I would be cursing Warren’s name as the pedals (which had been feeling weird for an hour already) finally had had enough and fell off the bike. “I put new pedals on too” he had proudly exclaimed as we made our dodgy deal in the carpark earlier, and these words were ringing in my ears after it became apparent that he had cross threaded both pedals and now they had worked their way out of the crank arms, stripping the threads, thus making them impossible to reattach to the bike. A passing French cyclist confirmed this and I sat at the side of the road for a minute, pondering my options. I was in the middle of no where, at least 10 hours out of Auckland, with light fading and no town of size for days to come ahead, and stuck with a bike without any pedals. So much for a good start! After a good 10 minutes cursing and staring into the roadside despondently I realised there was only one thing for it; push and hitchhike with my bike back to Auckland for a couple of days and if I was lucky find a bike shop that could fix it.

Less than one hour later I was happily sitting in a hot tub, with panoramic views from the top of a hill, beer in hand and bike all fixed, talking shit with a new friend.
As soon as I’d put my thumb out earlier, more in desperation than any real hope, the first person stopped and told me to chuck my bike in the back of his truck. I got in the passenger seat and met Harry, a forester on his way home from work. “I hope you don’t mind do…” he tried to warn me before his pup Poppy leapt onto my lap for the ride. “Sorry mate, but you’re in her seat”. As we bounced down the road I told him my predicament and how I was trying to head all the way back to Auckland to fix the bike. “Yeah, you could do that I guess….or I could take you back to my place, get you a shower and a bed and see what we can do with your bike”.

No sooner had we got to his place he was rummaging around in his workshop amongst random greasy tools and rusting machines. “Aha!” his voice sounded from amidst the mechanical chaos – here it is! By some minor miracle he had found two pedals with a bolt out to the other side of the crank arm on a dilapidated old exercise bike from the 1980’s. Incredible, this was one in a million stuff. No other bike pedal I have ever seen has had this feature. I barely had time to process the words “hold the bike for me would you mate” before I was wincing and scrunching my face up in pain as I was peppered head on with the blinding shards of metal coming from his angle grinder, less than a foot away. “Right, time for a beer” he pronounced a few minutes later as the exercise bike pedals were successfully mounted onto my child’s bike, and I examined the multitude of little red marks up my bare arms, and black scorch marks on my T-shirt.

After the first beer was opened and we were in the tub Harry tossed the bottle cap into the hedge. Seeing the look of horror on my face he reassured me “oh it’s alright mate, that’s the bottle hedge, that’s what it’s there for….just dont tell the wife, ok?” he said with a wink. After he necked the beer he then proceeded to toss the empty bottle into the hedge which immediately bounced right out and smashed all over the concrete below. “Shit, looks like the bottle hedge is full!”

As I drifted off to sleep in his absent teenage sons bedroom, woozy from all the beer jet lag and hot tub, surrounded by half eaten pot noodles and mountains of dirty clothes, I thought of all the millions of ways this day could have ended up, and couldn’t have dreamt up a better one. One of my favourite things about travelling in a slightly unconventional way are the chaotic and random situations you can be thrown into, completely at the mercy of chance. It’s just so fun to let go and enjoy the ride to see where you end up.

Getting Going

After the stuttering start I had to my journey by bike and foot across NZ (see earlier post) I was keen to get on the road. Armed (or should that be legged?) with my angle grinded exercise bike pedals, I hopped onto my pink teenage girls bicycle and rolled away. The first few days had me cycling through strangely familiar terrain of dairy farming landscape, which was surreal when juxtaposed with the exotic plant and bird life, and the feeling of being so far from home. I left the North coast near Thames and bore south along an old railway line, and later made camp behind a closed roadside museum, the contents of which were unclear from the name or signage. Next came a big day of increasingly rolling terrain with a lot of climbing which culminated in sleeping at the geographical centre of the North Island, deep within the Pureora forest.

After a short climb early the next day (no need for an alarm clock – the bird song at 4:30 was a deafening cacophony of exotic beeps and trills) it was an incredible downhill mountain bike track – The Timber Trail – which was the most enjoyable days cycling I’ve ever had. This is a twisting, turning little single track that snakes down the mountain for 80km across ridiculous suspension bridges, ravines and carved out pathways from the old timber days. It was incredible to following these old logging tracks dating back to the late C19th and seeing the lengths that were gone to extract the timber: spiral railways with tunnels blasted through, paths painstakingly cut out of the hillside and trees uprooted, all in a rugged, remote and
densely forested landscape. With battered wrists and sore arms from 12 hours of intense downhill riding and concentration, it was a relief (or more disbelief) to wheel into Taumarunui with my child’s mountain bike in one piece.

One down, one to go…

And just like that and on to the next island. Nine days after setting off from Auckland, my dubious mountain bike and I have – against all odds – made it more or less intact down to Wellington and across the Cook Straight to the South Island. The North Island continued to deliver incredible scenery and wild trails, including the novelty sight of a quintessentially Westcountry dairy farming scene, except with a massive snow capped volcano towering above in the background. Especially enjoyed two days following the Whanganui river on hilariously slow and fun mud-soaked trails in dense forest which involved a fair bit of pushing and quite a lot of falling off. Also passed by the ‘bridge to nowhere’, a concrete structure in the middle of the woods, it was curiously built there and never connected to any roads!
It was so much fun riding the North Island, but I have also been excited this last day to be ditching the bike and getting walking. I feel like a triathlon competitor doing their slick transition from one discipline to another, except my one involves dumping a filthy bike on a stranger and takes about 20 hours to complete. I’m doing the swap from bike to hike near Nelson, and thanks to an old school friend of my girlfriend’s dad (the more random the connection, the better!) I even have a little cabin in the hills for the night to metamorphose from stinking, dishevelled cycling man, to temporarily vaguely clean hiking man. I’ve got 30 days to cross the mountains running down the length of the island to a remote corner of Fjordland, over a 1200km to the South. Here goes…

Part 2: Walking across the South Island